Wumm, Päng, Krach, Klirr, Knirsch! – German Comics Language!

By Silvia Schmid, Ph.D. on Email

Comics go back to Benjamin Franklin (1754) when he published a cartoon of a snake with a severed head.  The words “join or die” written on the snake were intended for the colonists to join what was to become the United States.

The Swiss Rudolph Töpffer, the German Wilhelm Bush, and the Brazilian Christophe, or Angelo Agostini, are considered the precursors for modern comics.   Töpffer created a comic strip in 1827.  In 1859, Bush published a famous comic called “Max und Moritz”.

Comics are funny.  They are used for entertainment, for historical, political or satirical purposes.  At first, newspaper comic strips were called “the funnies”.  Later, the term comics became more popular.  Did you ever think about comics as a medium for reading and language learning such as German?

When I was a girl, comics inspired me.  Comics gave me the pleasure of reading.   I grew up with the Swiss Globi, the blue parrot with the yellow beak, blue feathers, the red and black checked trousers and the jauntily placed beret.  A funny creature, always ready to help!  He encourages, he saves.  Globi has only good intentions and a real big heart.  This year he celebrates his 80th birthday.

I read all the volumes of Papa Moll, the charming, lovable, and clumsy family man and father of Willy, Fritz and Evi.  Many times, he gets himself into mischief.  How many times has his family, including his dog Tschips, stepped in to save the situation?

My husband likes the comics.  He finds them in the newspapers.  Our boys love to read the comics, too.  In the mornings, they make a run for the paper to see who gets to laugh at the comics first.  Our book shelves contain a variety of comic books.  Among them, you could find many German comics such as Micky Mouse, Lucky Luke, Tintin.  But most of all, we own 45 copies of Asterix and Obelix, all taped, glued, and stitched together because of heavy over-usage.  I wondered many times, “Do the boys read the words or do they look at the pictures only?”  But I know, they do read.

I have used comics in the classroom.  It is a good way to unwind from grammar and vocabulary drills.  We loosen up, lie back, relax.  When we talk about the book “Von Idioten Umzingelt” (the Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and Greg Heffley’s ridiculous dream mansion, I let the students draw their own imaginative blue print.  Then, they present their fabulous and extravagant villa – all in German!  There is “das Wohnzimmer, das Schlafzimmer, das Heimkino, die Pizzaecke, die Eisdiele, das Gaming Zimmer, die Achterbahn und das Sportzentrum.”  There is no end to creativity.

No wonder, I was thrilled when at a 11th annual conference in San Francisco organized by the Central Agency for German Schools Abroad ZfA, one of the 13 workshops offered was on Comics, Mangas und Co.

Ursula Dinter introduced us to some German comics artists such as Flix, Ulf K., Anke Hage, or Mawil to mention just a few.  She made it clear that using comics is a unique way for learning German.  Comics express something – an emotion, a mood, an impression.  Comics stimulate.  Comics encourage reading and make learning fun.  Comics make language learning interesting, and help with pronunciation.  Comics teache culture.  And I could add so much more, but here are some illustrations:

“Gluck gluck” stands for trinken (to drink); “schmatz” is for essen (the food is delicious); “mpf mpf” may be translated as Geräusch (noise while eating); “schluchz” is an easy guess for weinen (to cry); “ding dong” stands for klingeln (the bell rings); “klatsch-klatsch” is for klatschen (well done, applause).

I bet you have laughed a number of times over a funny comic strip.  As a parent, you may encourage your child to read by using comics… Maybe you even try a foreign language.  As a teacher, you may create a relaxed classroom atmosphere using comics – maybe in your language class.  This is a welcomed treat.

As a child, teenager, a mom or a dad, a grandma or a grandpa, you may simply need a good laugh once in a while.  Read comics – in English, German or in another language.

And here is a little German comics language quiz:  Can you translate this?

  1. wau, wau
  2. plop
  3. kicher
  4. huiiii


Solution:  1) bellen – to bark 2) hinfallen – to fall down 3) lachen – to smile 4) Wind, etwas bewegt sich schnell – the wind, something moving fast.

Photos: Max und Moritz, Globi photo by weltbildschweiz via flickr

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Silvia Schmid, Ph.D.